The debate over the current role MLIS programs can play in the library industry keeps popping up. For a recent example, check out Will Manley’s blog, Will Unwound, which asks some important questions: Are too many graduates being spit out into the shrinking job pool? Are graduate programs, in their ivory towers, isolating themselves from current realities? Are online programs supporting or corroding the industry? Is an MLIS just a union-card, only necessary to further our careers?
Here’s another question to add to the mix: in terms of MLIS programs, should the American Library Association step in and make a gesture to try and calm the storm this recession has stirred up?
While you think about that, here’s a precedent to my question:
In November 2009, the American Bar Association released the following report: “ABA Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crises on the Profession and Legal Needs.” It was a warning of sorts, recognizing that the cost of a law degree was going up while the average salary was going down – and it shared some stark numbers (more on that later). While the ABA did not want to dissuade any potential students from entering law school, it did want to send a clear message that “all law school applicants should have a clear picture in the debt that they will incur and the expected earning power of graduates from the schools to which they were applying.” They were looking out for future lawyers.
When I first saw this report I found it interesting that a professional association would publish such an honest assessment of the current employment situation. So I posted it on my blog, asking if the American Library Association should do the same. With ALA 2011 right around the corner, I thought it would be an appropriate time to reexamine this question.
In researching employment statistics for the Library Industry, I turned to Library Journal’s Placement and Salary Survey 2010, which seemed to offer up the most current information – looking at job trends from 2008-2009. Here are some of the facts that I pulled from this report:
- In 2009, there appeared to be a decrease in the number of students graduating – about 7%. The report does acknowledge that this could be from less students applying, or from students not being able to complete programs due to a lack of available financial assistance.
- That said, library schools reported receiving an average of 22% fewer job announcements, with the average job search of new graduates lasting 4.5-months
- The national average salary is up 1.5% ($42,215 – up from $41,579) and full time placements are up 3.1%. But so are part time placements (4.5%), temporary placements (2.8%) and non-professional placements (5.9%) and unemployment (7.3%)
- Speaking of part time employment, of those who are employed part-time, 34% of them have accepted two part time jobs after graduation.
- Academic libraries had a drop in job placements: from 31% in 2008 to 20% in 2009, and public libraries had 8.4% fewer placements and an average salary increase of less than 1%.
To summarize, while there may be fewer graduates, there are even less jobs being posted, creating a four-five month long job search, often resulting in graduates accepting multiple part-time and temporary positions to make enough money to both survive and to start to pay off loans.
Now, let’s look at what was the state of law schools was when the ABA released it’s report. In 2008 the average student was taking out between $70,000 and $100,000 to pay for graduate school, and upon graduation the majority of students were making less than the national average salary for lawyers (about $65,000), when in previous years students were being picked up by private firms and offered annual salaries $160,000. Apparently the private firms aren’t hiring like they used to.
While I think we should look a bit deeper at the current state of recent MLIS graduates before we make a strict comparison between the two professional groups, I do think there are some correlations that can be drawn from these numbers. Granted, the library student may not be taking out quite as much in loans (depending on the program, of course) but it also has never been common for first-year librarians to make six figures. And, as the Library Journal report shows while there are jobs, they are harder and harder to come by and students are having to get creative in making ends meet.
So, should the ALA follow the ABA and release a report or statement warning individuals thinking about entering in the report? Personally, I think it would be the polite thing to do. But we would love to hear your thoughts…
Whether it does or does not issue a warning, there is still hope. The report does point out niches within the industry that are hiring at a faster rate than most, namely archives and digital libraries. And many students are finding gainful employment outside of the library industry, finding novel ways of putting their library schools skills to work in non-traditional roles.
And, if you are a job hunter and heading to New Orleans for the annual conference, there are some resources at your disposal. Before going, check Micah’s list of recommended sessions, Annie and Lauren’s conversation on networking, and when you there stop by the Joblist placement center. Or, if you aren’t attending the conference (like me), Nicole put together a great list of ways to follow with out even being there.
Again, this is an important issue, for new and veteran librarians alike. Please share your thoughts with us so we can keep the conversation going!